Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has placed the tech sector at the centre of his budget reply, pitching a “Startup Year” which would see graduates accessing university loans to launch new companies through accelerator programs.
Mr Albanese will deliver his budget response speech in Parliament on Thursday night, two days after Treasurer Josh Frydenberg unveiled the government’s budget.
Front and centre in the response will be a policy which would allow 2,000 recent graduates to participate in university programs or private accelerators to develop their ideas into startup companies.
This would be done through the existing HELP university loan scheme, with accelerator costs up to $11,300 to be covered.
The policy will be led by new shadow industry minister Ed Husic, who said it is about strengthening Australia’s economy and growing jobs.
“We want to be able to tap into the energy of young Australians to help rebuild the economy long term, to be able to use their fresh eyes and their fresh ideas to create new firms and create new jobs, and for those firms to address social needs and improve the operations of existing Australian businesses,” Mr Husic told the media on Thursday.
It’s the same policy that the Labor Opposition took to the 2016 federal election, in the wake of then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s National Innovation and Science Agenda. In late 2015, then-Opposition Leader Bill Shorten unveiled the concept of a Startup Year, also with 2000 places on offer, at a cost of $5.5 million.
At the time, Mr Husic was the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition Assisting with Digital Innovation and Startups.
Under the program, the university and accelerator programs would be accredited, and would also provide mentoring and professional development. The criteria for this would be guided by the prioritisation of likely scalable commercial business ventures, Mr Husic said.
“The goal of Startup Year is to increase the number and scale of new high-growth firms that are creating economic growth, innovation and good quality jobs for the future. This program will bring together the most innovative young entrepreneurs, universities and other industry leaders to work in concert to increase the success of Australia’s startup sector,” he said.
“Not only do startups play a key role in creating new industries and bringing new products to market, they also play a critical role in job creation.”
The Coalition has left the tech sector by the wayside, Mr Husic said.
“After eight long years of failing to invest in innovation under the Morrison government, Australia is already lagging the rest of the world when it comes to accelerating future industries,” he said.
“Under this government’s watch Australia has fallen to number 23 on the Global Innovation Index and their existing Entrepreneur Program has achieved little more than funnelling millions of dollars to multinational consulting firms.
“You can sum up the Morrison government approach to innovation and tech: always late, always little and always over-hyped.”
There is an important role for government to play in promoting entrepreneurialism, he said.
“Government has a leadership role to signal the value of entrepreneurialism. You’re not going to get new jobs if you don’t see new firms. We have to look at the entire system and ensure we’re seeing startups emerge and that we’re seeing them grow and scale up. That’s why we’re putting emphasis on this program,” Mr Husic said.
The Labor policy will help to support Australia’s area of strategic advantage and national importance in the wake of COVID-19, Mr Albanese said.
“It is Australian startups in areas like manufacturing, medicine, IT and clean energy that will build the Australian industries of tomorrow whilst also solving some of our toughest domestic and global challenges,” Mr Albanese said.
Shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek said the scheme would encourage graduates to move into new industries and launch new companies.
“This is about training a generation of young entrepreneurs to be confident to expand new industries. These industries have the potential to be some of the big employers of the future,” Ms Plibersek said.
This week’s federal budget provided little support for the startup sector.
It did include the launch of a “patent box” scheme providing tax breaks on income derived from patents held locally, but this will be initially limited to medicine and biotechnology companies.
Mr Husic said he would wait to see the details of this scheme before deciding whether to support it.
“We’re not saying no, we want to see what the detail is to see if it will actually stand up here and work. Anything that can spur on innovation in this country, obviously I think we need to have an open mind to. But the track record of the government has been really patchy in this regard,” he said.
The government also revealed plans to again reform the employee share scheme, a popular program with early-stage startups.
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